Engr. Rauf Aregbesola, former Works Commissioner in Lagos State, was the Action Congress, AC governorship candidate for the April 2007 poll in Osun State. Aregbesola, the prime mover of the Oranmiyan Movement, in this interview with SAM BELLO speaks on his dogged battle to get the court to reverse the victory of the Osun State Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola in the election and at the Tribunal. He also bares his mind on several other national issues.
Q: What do you think you would have done in Osun State by now if you had been sworn in as Governor on May 29, 2007?
Aregbesola: In summary, I would not want to go into detailed explanations on what would have been in place if I had been sworn in on May 29, 2007, as we all had expected and as the people of Osun State worked for, desired and expected before the election, which some people deprived them of. Rather than give you that details which I want to believe is now common knowledge in Osun and Nigeria at large as I have explicitly enunciated those things that have been denied Osun people by the interlopers. I will just say the entire efforts at taking over the administration of Osun, through a democratic process, was informed by our concern about the economic poverty and the political doldrums that the state has been in since 2003 when the present crop of intruders hijacked the authority to govern the state. That is the summary.
We told the world that our emergence was precipitated by our desire to bring about redemption and if we define redemption, it means renewing, reviving, re-invigorating and healing diseases. Political disease, economic disease, social disease and spiritual disease that have plagued the space with the belief that we will purge such a critical part of Yoruba nation and Nigeria of the anomalies there and of course there will he a radian spread of fullness of joy and a radiant spread of rebirth and redemption in all ramifications. This is what we promised and it is what our emergence would have brought, and that is one thing that Osun state has missed.
Q: The issue of constituency allowances to the legislators, both at state and, national level have generated controversy. What is your stand on this?
Aregbesola: Let us educate ourselves very clearly. In the first instance, what is called governance is development of; constituencies. Governance means development of Human, materials and environmental resources of a space, and the space now is variously defined and gradually too by the constituencies that are so characterized. You have ward constituency, which is usually represented by a councillor, you have local government constituency which is represented by a local government administrator or chairman. In some local governments, you have one House of Assembly representative, in some local governments; you have more than one state legislator representing it.
Above that, you have the Federal constituency for the House of Representatives and also the Senatorial constituencies, followed by the gubernatorial constituencies in each state while the entire nation makes up the presidential constituency. If we really understand what constituency is all about, it won’t be difficult to understand what constituency development project should be. In the context of the Nigerian state, you have various categories of constituency projects.
At the National Assembly level, you have constituency projects, either as a senator or as a member of the Federal House of Representatives which in the case of senators would be an agglomeration of several local governments.
In Osun state, we have an average of three House of Representatives, members in each of the three senatorial districts. There are also, 10 local government areas in each of the senatorial districts.
My own take for clarity if governance at the executive level is development of constituencies and the constituents, then it is a must do for good governance. In fact, there is no reason for governance if constituencies are not to be developed. It is the number one purpose of government.
The question is: how are the constituencies going to be developed? Will it be development as defined by you for your own selfish reason or the one required by the people for their real needs and purposes? Again, we want to know the procedure. The issue in Osun State about constituency projects at the state Assembly level is one of the novelties of our presidential system of government.
It’s the presidential system of government that really separates the functions and operations of the various arms of government. In parliamentary system, there is no strict separation of roles because in parliamentary system, all those who are in the executive arms are also parliamentarians further saddled with executive responsibilities and in that case, the question of separation of roles would be superfluous. After all, the Prime Minister is not Prime Minister alone, but also a member of the parliament and representing specific constituency.
Whatever his government does at the executive level, is simply a reflection of what his constituents required of him because we are running a presidential system, there is the requirement that those who are in the House would always have projects they would want to identify as promoted by themselves, either as assemblymen at the state, federal or even local government level, was the reason why it was introduced.
Because of the strict definition of function and responsibility, it is criminal and unconstitutional for any legislator to appropriate the duty of the executive in implementation of whatever project or programmes he initiates or, promotes as his own constituency project. By the way, it is equally strange and rare for all assembly members to have uniformed projects because the needs of various constituencies are different and dissimilar.
In the case of Osun since 2003 till date, to tell you how totally abnormal and unethical, therefore unconstitutional some of these things are, the so-called constituency projects since the inception of the administration of Olagunsoye Oyinlola in 2003, has been the same pattern. It is either building of classroom blocks, without any design, without costing with the same amount of money. That is not it. That is not actually the, principle of constituency projects.
Constituency project ought to be the core critical needs of each constituency which ‘a serving honorable’ member representing that constituency, upon consultation with his constituents would want to/make part of current budgetary provision, which he would use his influence in government to get constituents would want to make part of current budgetary provision, which he would use his influence in government to get executed by the executive.
The view of Osun State Action Congress and other progressive parties, and I want to believe, all well thinking Nigerians, the issue we arc raising about the unethical and equally unconstitutional practice of Osun State government in particular, the PDP wing of the assembly members, is the impropriety of the procedure used in allocating resources from a capital provision of the budget and allocation of fund from that capital provision to the direct allowance account of each honorable members. It is totally abnormal and totally illegal. It is not supported by any law in Nigeria. It is strange to the general order of government operation.
Don’t forget that even a messenger, who is probably the lowest paid worker or civil servant in the public office, must not directly execute projects or contract for government, not to now talk of any senior public servant. If a cleaner cannot take contract from the government, either local or state, without infringing the laws of the land, how can a public functionary of a legislative capacity explain direct· payment of capital fund from money meant for capital project to their private allowance account to prosecute any project?
Following due process demands that having identified the project you want for your constituency, the appropriate government agencies would now go about determining the cost of other projects after designing them and approving the design and then go through the process of procuring the competent persons that must not have any relationship with anybody in government to undertake the project.
Should the state now want to use an agency ‘that is established for direct execution of government projects it will be so defined. We were all in Nigeria when former governors, Alamieyeseigha, Dariye and Fayose were criminalised and sanctioned through the manipulation of the various members or state Houses of Assembly on the same constituency projects mismanagement. To me, it’s the height of criminality, impunity and brazenness. It shows the level to which some of us have sunk in depravity.
Q: Do you think that economic summits being organized almost in all the South-West States can lead to proper economic integration in the region?
Aregbesola: There is a difference between economic summit and II economic integration in the South-West. Economic summit is a welcome development and if the purpose is to put together people with adequate knowledge of what is required I to stimulate rapid growth, then there is nothing wrong with it. As a matter ‘of fact, we have summited at ward levels, to rigorously consider the needs of that ward and the method of ensuring that those needs are met. So there is nothing wrong with it.
What is painful and unedifying is the fact that we have economic summits as a fad, as if it does not really matter what we get out of it. It is just one of the things they do for ego with the assumption that if others are doing it, let us do it too. It is more of showmanship. It is really a vehicle for the development of the space of the area for which the summit is called.
Consider the one that was organised in Lagos. Remember that we begain it. Before we assumed office here, we had what was called the transition group, where we fashioned out a blueprint for development which is still the basis for all that we are doing. With the blueprint, we initiated a periodic review of that blueprint vis-à-vis the realty of the resources available to the state and need for planning to improve on the resource available and what the revenue so acquired will be used for.
From ex-Governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), it’s a continuous process and the benefit of the continuity is, simply wonderful, it’s amazing and it’s visible. It’s visible in terms of internally generated revenues capacity of the state, it’s visible in terms of the revenue derivable to the state. I doubt if any state could compare with Lagos state in any of the areas of development, be it human, be it materials, be it environmental, be it commercial, or even economic. There is no aspect of life that Lagos does not stand above any other state in Nigeria. Compare the content and context of the summit that Lagos had with the one holding today in all other states.
I will encourage the organisation of summits at state, regional and national levels because it is through such fora that you gather experts and professionals and challenge them to critically assess the needs of the society, the resources available to the society, the general potentials of that society and plan methods of development for a given period and the future.
Q: Recently, members of the National Association of Local Government Workers’ Union, NULGE, protested at the National Assembly, Abuja on the plan to abolish the local government from Nigerian’s political system. How would you see this protest by NULGE members?
Aregbesola: I don’t think anybody advocated for the removal of local government as an arm of government but local government in a federation cannot be a separate arm of government. It is an anachronism to have an autonomous local government area in a federal structure. A federal structure recognises only two tiers of government-the federal government and the state government. Whatever the state does with its own operations’ is absolutely its prerogative. So if a principal entity that has link with any other power outside the state exists within a state; it’s a direct affront, a direct challenge and a direct abuse of federalism.
For a federal structure to be so called and meaningful, the tiers of governments recognized constitutionally should be two and not three. The local government must be the absolute prerogative of the state government for federalism to have any meaning. So it is in that regard that I would want to understand the clamour for a review of the constitution.
That though does not mean abrogation of the local government area, No. As a matter off act, what this means is redefining local government appropriately. Local governments are governments meant for specific interest and purpose in a state as defined and understood by that state. It does not in any way mean abrogation of that tier of government. It simply means, let local government be the prerogative and absolute responsibility of the state. There cannot be state without local government just as there cannot be a federal government without the state. The local governments are subjects of each state.
Q: During your sojourn at the election petition tribunal, the interactions between the tribunal and the lead counsel to the defendant was a major story around the country, don’t you think that it may affect you in any way?
Aregbesola: It was TheNEWS magazine that broke the news that there was unethical interaction between members of that tribunal and a leading counsel to one· of the respondents· in my petition. Worse was the fact that even during some of the sittings of that tribunal text messages were exchanged between the counsel and the chairman of the tribunal. Up until now, that has not been denied. My lawyers have written to several judicial organs and my party has sent a petition to Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. I even understand that the paper has been sued for libel at a Lagos High Court. I am aware of all these and we are all waiting and watching to see how it will fare.
Of course, we raised it in the course of the hearing that the attitude of members of that tribunal was suspicious and one of our counsels even accused the tribunal of exhibiting prejudice, and bias. All these I want to believe are in the minds of the Nigerian public. Even the style and the hostility of the tribunal, to us, during the hearing could not even exonerate them of the allegation of compromise, bias and prejudice. Virtually all the vital evidences we had to prove our case were excluded. They were never allowed to be brought in.
Several ploys were employed; several methods were used to deny us fair hearing. These were tabled by our lawyers at the tribunal and they are already in the court of public opinion like issues such as the exclusion of biometric evidence and physical inspection report, which the tribunal in the first instance ordered, approved, to computer analysis of the ballot materials. I want to explain this point. Whereas, the biometry is the examination or analysis of the biological aspect of the electoral process, finger prints and what have you, a huge number of manipulations were discovered. In the physical examination, we discovered that I here was no way the time claimed to have been ~used by the voters could be justified.
For instance, in Obafemi Awolowo University there were several polling stations, but for the purpose of my explanation, I will specify only Awolowo Hall. In Awolowo Hall, the polling station there 2,355 voters were registered by INEC. The university was closed down in February 2007 and it did not re-open until July, two months after the elections.
Yet the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, returned a total of 2,300 votes with the connivance and collusion of INEC. On the surface you may want to say, what about that? But that is exactly the issue and that is the expose of PDP manipulation and rigging.
That particular result clearly exposed the chicanery and manipulations of PDP in collusion with INEC. For such a result to have been possible, given each voter one minute each, which is impossible, because all’ PDP’s witnesses affirmed that it would take each voter at least three minutes to complete the voting process from the point of contact with the polling materials and INEC officials. Therefore, INEC officials would be super-efficient for three minutes to be enough to complete a voting process. But going by their own admission, the minimum period it will take a voter to vote was three minutes going by PDP witnesses account -and admission to the tribunal.
Were they to have spent that period, definitely, the totality of votes that could have been returned from that polling station within a period of seven hours, which was the period· used for that election would be maximum of 200 voters. Yet PDP returned for itself, 2,300 votes in Awolowo Hall. Now allowing a minute for each voter would mean that the exercise lasted for 2,300 minutes. Dividing 2,300 minutes by 60 minutes, the entire process lasted for 38 hours.
We must do this to actually know the enormity of the crime perpetrated by PDP to return itself illegally in Osun State, allowing for the maximum period of INEC for each voting day which is 10hours; it means that to return the result people would have been voting continuously for four days.
Again in all the areas where we challenged PDP or where PDP manipulated clearly without any inhibition or without any force, PDP just wrote figures for itself. There was no basis at all for such returns. In Ife-East, out 64 polling units, from the official documents that we got through physical inspection; we discovered that it was only two polling stations that reports could meet the three minutes voting period for each voter. In 60 other polling units, the results posted could not have been possible with that time allocation.
•Culled from National Mirror